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Journaling as an Act of Self-Care

December 28, 2021

By Christa Banister

While it’s probably buried in a landfill somewhere after a number of big moves over the years, one of my 10-year-old self’s most treasured possessions was, hands down, my tomato-red journal with a heavy-duty gold lock.

There was something incredibly liberating about being the only one who knew where the key was. And whether I waxed poetic about my crush of the moment, listed all the places I hoped to visit one day, or voiced my frustrations with my younger siblings, parents, or my classmates, having an outlet for my uncensored thoughts and feelings was important.

Without even realizing it, journaling was my act of self-care long before the concept made its way into the mainstream.

A Surprising Form of Therapy

Despite being primarily associated with tween and teenage girls in the past, there’s been a major resurgence in journaling for people of all ages. Whether it’s putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, scientific studies shared by The New York Times have shown the many benefits of journaling.

For anyone struggling with depression or in a particularly stressful season of life, journaling is a valuable tracking device for recognizing triggers and finding better ways to control them when they arise.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), writing is therapeutic. It not only strengthens the mind and helps manage anxiety, but boosts the immune system by using self-expression as a lens to interpret life experiences. While many see journaling as a healthy forum to vent without judgment, there’s an even greater opportunity to learn about yourself and your emotions, right down to the words you select to describe your experiences.

In research documented by the University of Rochester Medical Center, journaling has been cited as an important tool in managing mental health as it helps to prioritize your concerns and fears. As one of many self-care activities we can participate in, it can be an invaluable resource for positive self-talk by noticing negative thoughts and behaviors, as well as a space for acknowledging gratitude, says HuffPost.com.

For anyone struggling with depression or in a particularly stressful season of life, journaling is a valuable tracking device for recognizing triggers and finding better ways to control them when they arise.

A New Way to Journal with Bullet Points

Whether we use our phones or a traditional planner to keep track of appointments, fun outings, and work and family obligations, we’re all familiar with making the good ol’ to-do list.

When blogger Tracy Halliday was a new mom, she made a sobering discovery while reviewing her bullet journal. For the uninitiated, a bullet journal is a log that serves a myriad of purposes, depending how you set it up. While it can include what’s on your agenda for any given week, you can also document your yearly resolutions and how they’re going, or track your goals, habits, spending, reading list, or whatever makes you happy.

For Halliday, her bullet journal led to an important aha! moment. While she was checking things off left and right, she wasn’t prioritizing her own self-care. Her entire focus was on her loved ones and the daily grind, which left her depleted. So rather than continue the status quo, she adapted her journal by creating a space exclusively for her happiness, something she elaborates on at BulletJournal.com.  

By making her personal, psychological, physical, emotional, spiritual, professional, environmental, and social care a priority and documenting the ups and downs along the way, she found more balance, peace, and a healthier overall perspective.

Getting Started

It’s no secret to anyone who has ever made a New Year’s resolution and failed after a day, a month, or six weeks: Starting a new habit, even a life-changing one, isn’t easy. The good news is journaling doesn’t require much in the way of time, resources, or finances. It’s as easy as picking up a pen or typing an e-mail and only requires a few minutes a day.

Unlike a lot of activities with specific rules, there’s no right or wrong way to express your thoughts and feelings.

Unlike a lot of activities with specific rules, there’s no right or wrong way to express your thoughts and feelings. Still not sure where to begin? Here’s a few secrets to getting the most out of journaling.

  • Consistency is key.

Set a few minutes aside every day — think of it as your time — to write.

  • Make it easy.

Keep a pen and paper or your phone handy at all times as you never know when inspiration will strike.

  • Don’t stress over structure.

Your journal is yours and yours alone. Don’t feel pressure to write a certain number of words, spell everything correctly, or express yourself in a particular way. Do whatever feels right. Maybe it’s a drawing, a poem, song lyrics. It’s up to you.

  • Create an atmosphere.

Pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee. Light your favorite scented candle. Play some music quietly in the background. Make this special time for yourself feel comfortable, and go for it.

Want to learn more about how expressive writing can help with chronic pain and improve your overall well-being? Listen to our Beyond Theory podcast from Dr. David Hanscom.